The Right Name for the Job
Paul Beveridge (yes, that's his real name) fell in love with wine at an early age. In the 1960s, his father worked a week at a time as an intern at the Napa Valley Mental Hospital while studying to be an Episcopal Priest. Mom and family (three boys) would pick up Dad at the hospital each weekend and go wine tasting on the way home to Berkeley. Paul and his brothers loved exploring the wine cellars and caves. “I remember most the wonderful smells of wine and oak in the barrel rooms.” These were the early days of the premium Napa Valley wine industry. For instance, Robert Mondavi had just opened his Napa Valley winery. “My favorite winery in those days was Louis Martini, because they served grape juice to kids and had the best cheese and crackers. After all, I was only seven years old.”
Paul’s Father continued to be a great influence in Paul’s appreciation of the “good life.” “Although my Dad could not afford any luxuries on a preacher’s salary, he always loved fine food and wine. When we happened to get a good bottle, it was always a big deal, and made the family meal a special occasion. While my Mother was very frugal, my Father had a hedonistic side. He loved trying foods that were considered exotic at the time. On holidays, he would show off by eating “strange” foods that one of our Uncle’s would bring from Europe. While I did not always appreciate what he ate when I was a child in the 1960s, his adventurous appetite was a useful influence when I first encountered escargot, fois gras, raw oysters, etc. later in life. It was his infectuous joy in eating and drinking with family that influenced me the most. Because of him, I will try anything (at least once).”
In 1972, Paul’s family moved to Moscow, Idaho – not known at the time as a wine or food mecca. However, just over the border in Washington State, the first heart beats of a premium wine industry were developing. Parishioners knew of Paul’s Father’s love for good wine and would often give him bottles as gifts. One of those parishioners was Dick Daley, a Washington State University Economics Professor who was then working with Walter Clore and others in studying the viability of growing European wine grapes and making wine in Washington State. “We were amazed with the quality of Dick’s wines. His Gewurtztraminer was the first I ever tasted and still one of the best I can remember. Dick’s Christmas gifts of homemade Washington State wine (made from grapes from the WSU research vineyard at Prosser) taught me that great wine could be made in Washington State.”
College at Whitman
Paul left Moscow, Idaho, in 1979 to attend Whitman College in nearby Walla Walla, Washington. There he would meet his future wife, Lysle Wilhelmi (the "Wil" in Wilridge), and be further introduced to the Washington Wine industry. At that time, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon and L’Ecole 41 were just getting started in Walla Walla, using grapes grown mostly in the Yakima Valley. “I remember calling Gary Figgins of Leonetti to see if I could visit his winery. He asked me how many cases of wine I might be interested in purchasing. I informed him that I might be able to afford one bottle. He said he wanted to watch football instead. I had better luck getting to know Rick Small of Woodward Canyon and Baker Ferguson of L’Ecole 41. Baker was on the Board of Whitman College at the time. He reminded me of my Father with his passion for food, wine and the good life. I was also impressed that he could start a winery on his own while maintaining a hectic schedule with his many other interests and endeavors. Baker was also the first person to show me the promise of Merlot in Washington State. He said that he made Merlot because he was too old to wait for Cabernet Sauvignon to properly age in his cellar.”
Go East, young man
When Paul was a Junior at Whitman, a college professor gave him an opportunity to attend Columbia Law School and skip his Senior year at Whitman. Paul left for New York in 1982. Paul's time in New York coincided with the importation of the first wines from Bordeaux’s celebrated 1982 vintage. “Growing up in Idaho, it was almost impossible to find French wines, let alone afford them. But in the mid-80’s on the East coast you could find excellent 1982 Bordeaux’s for less than ten dollars! During law school, I earned a little money working for law firms in the summer and was able to afford fine wine for the first time in my life. I remember going out to a tiny French restaurant in Manhattan that turned out not to have a liquor license. Instead of being disappointed, I ran across the street and purchased a 1982 Margaux for fourteen dollars from a package liquor store. The wine was like velvet and it was the best meal I had ever had at that point in my life.”
It takes a lot of beer to make good wine
Somethings Paul missed in New York were the tasty microbrewery beers being produced in Washington State. “I spent the summer of 1983 working for a law firm in Seattle. I fell in love with the new beers being made by Grants, Thomas Kemper and Redhook, but I could not find anything similar in New York, so I started making my own.” The seeds of Wilridge Winery were planted with five gallon batches of beer brewed in Paul’s 250 square foot appartment in Spanish Harlem.
“It’s actually much harder to make good beer than make good wine. Beer is more perishable than wine because it lacks wine’s high acidity and alchohol content. You have to boil beer to sterilize it and maintain impeccable sanitation throughout the brewing process. There is some truth to the saying that ‘brewers make good wine makers but wine makers make lousy brewers.’ Wine making is much more forgiving than brewing. I think the fact that I started as a home brewer taught me some useful habits that have served me well as a wine maker, and also kept me from making some mistakes in the early years of Wilridge Winery.”
Paul continued brewing beer after graduating from Law School in 1985 and starting work as an environmental lawyer in Washington D.C. His first major project at his new law firm involved extensive travel to California. “We had meetings at the marine laboratory in Bodega Bay. I would schedule the meetings for Fridays and Mondays so that I could spend the weekend wine tasting in the Sonoma Valley. I remember bringing home gifts of Davis Bynum Pinot Noir and Hop Kiln Primitivo Zinfandel. The Sonoma wine industry of that time reminds me of the Washington wine industry of today, with a few older established wineries and multiple new wineries popping up all over the region.”
Familiar territory, back to Seattle
In 1986, Lysle entered medical school at the University of Washington and Paul moved back to Washington State to practice environmental law at Heller Ehrman in Seattle. At Heller Ehrman, Paul worked with Ralph Palumbo, who operated a small winery in his garage at home. “Like Baker Ferguson, Ralph had an intense schedule but still managed to find time to make wine. I figured that if he could make wine while still maintaining the workload of a partner at a large law firm, I could do it as an associate at the same firm.”
About the same time, Lysle was having second thoughts about a medical career and the years of residency required before she could start a practice: “I had always loved to cook and wondered if I should try working in restaurants before committing to a medical residency. So I took a year off and went to work for Tom Douglas at his first restaurant, Café Sport in the Pike Place Market.” The year off soon became permanent and Lysle went on to cook with Susan Vanderbeek at Campagne restaurant (also in Seattle’s Pike Place Market).
After Lysle had worked three years at Campagne, Lysle and Paul decided to take the plunge and open their own restaurant in a house they had purchased in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle. Their idea was to create a European-style bistro where Lysle made the food and Paul made the wine. The restaurant was on the first floor, living quarters on the second floor, and the winery in the cellar. The restaurant, Madrona Bistro, opened to critical acclaim. However, laws left over from the repeal of prohibition stopped Paul from selling his wine at the restaurant. Previously, these “tied house” laws – which prevent manufacturers of alcoholic beverages from owning retail outlets – had prohibited brew pubs in Washington State. But the law had recently been changed for brew pubs, so Paul thought it should be changed for “wine pubs” as well. With some help from the Washington Wine Institute, Paul had the law changed and was finally able to sell Wilridge wines at Madrona Bistro (two years after the restaurant opened).
Wilridge Winery debuts
The reception for Wilridge wines upon release was fantastic. The initial offering of Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold medal at the Washington State Fair. Customers at Madrona Bistro would enjoy a bottle over dinner, tour the winery after dinner, and take home a case or two of wine for their cellars. But at the same time, Lysle was burning out on a schedule of 80 hour work weeks with no vacation. Reluctantly, the couple closed the restaurant in 1994. However, Paul continued to enjoy operating Wilridge Winery and decided to expand the operation. Says Paul: “Winemaking is a seasonal endeavor. We work long hours during harvest, but there is also downtime in the winter that provides a chance to relax and concentrate on other interests (such as practicing law).
Raise the house
In 1996, Paul expanded the winery by lifting the house (and former restaurant) and excavating a 1,500 square foot cellar/winery. One week after the house was lifted, Lysle gave birth to their first son, Mack. “I did not think much of having to carry my new born son into my house on a ladder” quips Lysle. The new facility gave Wilridge the capacity to produce 2,000 cases of wine per year. Little brother Liam joined older brother Mack in 1997.
A Long Strange Trip
Over the years, Paul has been able to work with grapes from some of the best vineyards in Washington state. “I love working with the many excellent vineyards and talented viticulturists we have in Washington, but my ultimate dream is to plant my own vineyard someday. In the meantime I am always interested in exploring new ‘terroirs’ in Washington State.” One vineyard source that Paul has not changed is Red Mountain. Currently, Paul sources Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese from Red Mountain.
Paul credits his success as a winemaker to working with great vineyards and great winemakers. “I have been privileged to learn from some of Washington State’s best winemakers. Winemakers who have helped me over the years include Rick Small from Woodward Canyon, Kay Simon from Chinook, Marty Clubb (Baker’s son-in-law) from L’Ecole 41, Rob Griffin from Barnard Griffin, Rob Stewart from Staton Hills, and David Forsythe from Hogue. There is a spirit of camaraderie in Washington State that is very inspiring. We are all trying to make the best possible wine and raise the quality bar for the entire state. I would like to think that I have helped a few of the new winemakers who are now emerging in Washington State.”
From Napa Valley, to Idaho, to Walla Walla, to New York, to D.C. to Seattle – a long journey for a winemaker. Good thing they served cheese and crackers to children at Louis Martini.
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